The Impact of Container Self Storage
A Conversation with Patrick Hicks of the CSTA
Containers have been a fundamental part of global trade and commerce for decades. Shipping containers come in a range of sizes and you are guaranteed to have seen them somewhere, whether at a port or on the back a lorry on the motorway, these steel giants have transported goods worldwide, simplifying the logistics of many industries.
Today, there is a new use for these containers that are gaining traction in the self storage industry. Anna Roberts, CEO of explorage.com recently had an enlightening conversation discussing industry challenges and the future of self storage with Patrick Hicks, Head of the Container Self Storage and Traders Association (CSTA), about his fascinating journey in the world of self storage.
Introducing Patrick Hicks
Patrick has been at the helm of the Container Self Storage and Traders Association (CSTA) for a number of years. He shared his experience running other associations related to container shipping. However, his involvement in the market isn’t just administrative, Patrick’s breadth of experience reveals the diverse application of containers – from shipping ports to traders and now, self storage. On a lighter note, despite Patrick's busy schedule, he manages to find time for personal pursuits, including golf and sailing, proving the importance of maintaining a work-life balance.
The Rise of Container Self Storage
As the business of running associations is an expansive topic, it was interesting to hear about Patrick's shift into the self storage segment of the industry. Four years ago, a key container trader approached Patrick with the idea of an association that would uphold professionalism and promote the benefits of the container self storage industry. The idea was to extend the existing Container Traders Association to encompass self storage.
This vision materialised in January 2020 with the launch of the Container Self Storage and Traders Association (CSTA). However, like many ventures that year, the pandemic impeded progression. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the association conducted numerous webinars such as “Container Trading: Market Trends & Challenges”, and “ Insurance for Container self storage Operators” and produced technical documents to maintain and share industry best practices. reaching new audiences online.
The Changing Perception of Container Self Storage
Recognising the Landscape
Anna Roberts pointed out that customers' choices for storage, whether indoor self storage or container storage, are often influenced by their location. Container storage sites are generally located outside city centres due to the substantial land required and drive-up access. This is in stark contrast to inner cities where many residents might not own a vehicle and would prefer an indoor self storage facility nearby. She emphasised that the decision is dependent not just on price but also on convenience, security, and suitability to customer needs.
Despite their variety of uses, containers sometimes get a bad reputation, especially when used for self storage. Anna emphasised the importance of running container-based storage operations professionally, “I think that there is a negative perception of the container sector within self storage that they are just containers plonked on a patch of ground,” Anna goes on to explain, “When I speak to container based storage operators that we have listed on explorage.com, they are running it very professionally, making sure that from a user perspective, they are having a great experience and they can drive up and it's easy to use and most importantly they feel safe.”
Understanding the Demographic
While many may think of individuals when considering self storage, businesses too, like those in equipment maintenance, are recognizing the advantages of container storage sites, especially those near industrial units.
Patrick relayed a recent enquiry that they had received, “I had a phone call from someone recently who was doing a lot of nationwide maintenance using different types of equipment. They were looking for a place where they could store a lot of their equipment. They needed 50 different sites across the country and they were looking at indoor self storage and they were also looking at container self storage,” he then goes on to explain, “Quite often where they're working is nearer to the container self storage sites because they are often near industrial units because of the type of things they have to store.”
Addressing Condensation Concerns
Anna raised an important issue regarding ventilation and condensation within container storage. Patrick acknowledged that while condensation has always been a challenge with shipping containers, innovations, like specific paint types for the container's interior and absorbents, have been developed.
Patrick admits, “It has always been a problem with shipping containers. The difference in temperature between outside the container and inside and the humidity inside the container has always been a problem, which means it condenses to some extent. The self storage operators often do try to educate their customers as to what they should put in there”
Best practices are also being shared, such as ensuring items are dry before storing and adding vents to the containers. For more information on savvy tips for packing your self storage unit read our Advice Centre.
Accessible Self Storage for All
Many operators ensure their containers are easily accessible, safe, and user-friendly and this is central to the CSTA mission, Patrick explains, “The idea of the CSTA is to promote professionalism and that's why we have an accreditation system where they get the CSTA logo which ensures they are working to professional guidelines” Other advantages include being included in a member directory, aiding visibility, networking opportunities, industry events and the opportunity to win and showcase your self storage business at awards.”
A clear advantage is a series of guidelines in place to ensure quality service, Patrick explains, “We cover the different sizes as well as different aspects of the business so that could be anything to do with the container itself, including the locking systems. Patrick acknowledged that older models with four-bar locks could be challenging to operate. Newer designs with three-bar locks are more user-friendly, demonstrating the industry's commitment to improving user experience.
The Role of Technology and Sustainability
Anna, who comes from a building surveying and tech background, was intrigued by the integration of technology in the container logistics operation. Patrick explained how the container industry has been evolving.
Most self storage containers are now made in China, “One of the things that they have changed is the paints,” Patrick explained, “this is important from a sustainability point of view as the paints that were used to paint the original containers were solvent paints. China implemented regulations a few years ago stating that solvents in paints are not good for the atmosphere.”
Similarly, containers' traditional hardwood floors are often replaced with sustainable bamboo to prevent deforestation.
The Future of CSTA
Patrick is optimistic about the future of the CSTA, noting they're gaining new members and working on updated operational guidelines. He revealed that a new container self storage census is planned. Interestingly, while container self storage has been predominantly a UK phenomenon, there are growing inquiries from businesses abroad, suggesting a potential expansion of the industry to countries such as Spain, France, and the Netherlands. Furthermore, considering the global push for sustainable energy, Anna suggested that outfitting container roofs with solar panels could be a considerable opportunity.
The History of Containers
Patrick has traced back the history of containers, revealing that the first container movement, involving 56 containers, took place in April 1956 in America. Today's ships can transport an astounding 24,000 containers from this modest beginning. While containers are a common sight in ports, their immense contribution to global supply chains often goes unnoticed until there's a disruption, such as a ship blocking a canal!
Whether it's advancing operational guidelines, expanding to international markets, or integrating green energy solutions, the future looks promising for the container storage sector. The self storage industry is a testament to the versatility of these structures. From facilitating global trade to providing local storage solutions, the humble container continues to prove its indispensable value in various parts of our lives.
To get the insider view into the world of self storage check out our Youtube channel for more information, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions about this or any other articles in the Storage Insider series - or if you would like to talk to us and share your insight get in touch with email@example.com.
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